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Tiger Woods takes the Masters in a win for the ages
[AUGUSTA, Georgia] Tiger Woods' comeback from personal and professional adversity is complete: He captured his fifth Masters title and his 15th major tournament Sunday, snapping a championship drought of nearly 11 years.
It was a monumental triumph for Woods, a magical, come-from-behind win for a player who had not won a major championship since his personal life began to unravel on Thanksgiving night in 2009, when a marital dispute led to a car accident and a succession of lurid tabloid headlines.
On the golf course, he had a series of back and leg injuries that led to an addiction to painkillers and culminated in pain so searing that, before surgery in 2017, he had questioned whether he could play professionally again.
Woods, who at 43 became the second-oldest winner of the Masters at Augusta National, after the then 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus in 1986, last achieved major success in one of golf's four major tournaments at the 2008 US Open.
"It's overwhelming just because of what has transpired," Woods said in a television interview after it was over. "To now be the champion — 22 years between wins is a long time — it's unreal for me to experience this. It was one of the hardest I've ever had to win just because of what's transpired the last couple years."
He had come close on some Sundays to winning his 15th major over the years but could not get it done. Yet after the surgery in 2017, a spinal-fusion procedure he called a "last resort," he began a new lease on his career.
His pursuit of Nicklaus' record 18 major championships, which seemed a foregone conclusion when he sprinted to 14 major titles in his first 11 years as a professional, is now officially back on.
Last year, Woods made 18 PGA Tour starts, his most since 2012, and posted his first victory since 2013, at the Tour Championship. He also contended in the last two majors of the year, the British Open and the PGA Championship, on the way to top-six showings at each tournament. Those results, he said, boosted his belief that he could contend this week at Augusta National, the site of his first major triumph, by 12 strokes, in 1997.
Woods, in his 22nd Masters appearance, closed with a final round of 70 and finished 13 under par at 275, one stroke better than Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele. He took the lead with just three holes to play after a birdie putt on the par-five 15th hole and held on from there.
With thunderstorms forecast for the late afternoon, organisers of the Masters moved up the start times by five hours. Players were also placed into groups of three rather than the traditional two, in hopes of speeding up play.
But by the time the tournament leaders went into the second half of their rounds Sunday, the wind picked up and it briefly began to rain.
Both of the players with whom Woods was grouped in the final threesome, Francesco Molinari, 36, and Tony Finau, 29, described Woods as their childhood idol. Both eventually succumbed to the pressure of the final round, but Woods did not.
"I was just trying to plod my way along the golf course all day," Woods said in the televised interview. "All of a sudden I had a lead. Coming up to 18 it was just trying to make a five. When I tapped the putt in — I don't know what I did, I know I screamed."
Now, after more than a decade of being stuck in place, Woods suddenly seems to have a full head of steam moving forward. The next two majors, the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Long Island in New York in May, and the US Open at Pebble Beach in California in June, are at courses where Woods has won before. He seems primed to do so again.
Those events seem far-off though. The glow from Sunday will surely last for weeks and months, and will be discussed for years as one of the pivotal moments in the career of an athlete who has been more than a golfer since he burst on the scene in 1996.
Woods famously barged into the sports world that year with his "Hello World" Nike commercial and a father, Earl Woods, who promised his son's accomplishments would change everything. The ensuing 23 years have been the ultimate roller coaster.
For the first decade of his career, Woods soaked up the praise and adulation that came with talent, success and fame. He struggled emotionally for the first time after the death of his father in 2006. Then the injuries began, and then his life started to unravel with the infamous 2009 car accident.
In 2017, after having undergone multiple surgeries on his back, he hit rock bottom. He was charged with driving under the influence when he was found in a painkiller haze at the wheel of his car with the motor running. He later pleaded guilty to reckless driving.
So it seemed fitting that nearly a decade after the 2009 accident, the first person he embraced when he came off the golf course Sunday was his son, Charlie, before he moved to his mother, Kultida, and his daughter, Sam, who is 11.
"To have my kids here it's come full circle," he said. "My dad was here in '97 and now I'm the dad with two kids there."
Woods said this tournament was one of the hardest he has ever had to win because he was carrying the burden of nearly winning in recent years but not doing so.
"I was as patient as I think I've been in a number of years, especially the last three days," he said. "To see that board, it was a who's-who. It all flipped at 12. We were a couple behind, Francesco made a mistake, I saw Brooksie make a mistake and all these different scenarios start flying around."
As he walked to sign his scorecard for his triumphant final round, a dozen former and current stars of the game waited to embrace him and shake his hand, something that never happened in years past, when Woods was largely a loner at the top of the sport.
As he donned the green jacket for a fifth time, he said something everyone knew. "It fits."